Life through a lens

My mum hates holidays, she also hates flying and she generally doesn’t really like being away from the house or the dogs.

However as you may imagine when holidays do occur in the Bishop family they are planned with expert precision. Apart from going overseas to see family we tended to do smaller holidays (nothing wrong with that) in fact there were a few years where my Mum genuinely wanted to stay at home and my Dad took us away. I know what you may be thinking but no my parents were never separated and have been married for 33 years but a holiday for my Mum was getting rid of the rest of the rest of us and staying at home with the dogs…best of both worlds, for her at least. Less so for my Dad of course who had to put up with my brother and me on a week off AND not even get to spend time with my mum at the same time.

Then there was an epiphany.

I don’t know what caused it.

But my Mum decided circa 1998 that we would go on our first proper pacsingingkage holiday. The randomness of this was that for our first package holiday, which was to Cyprus, we ended up in the same place, the same week, as our neighbours.   As random as that was it was actually a great week a great time in the sunshine, some questionable dancing, a limbo competition and a lot of glass balancing.

 

However, its not just fun in the sun to be had on a Bishop holiday, oh no. There is this distinct idea that we ‘must do stuff’ everywhere we go.  Whilst I understand this in those well known sightseeing locations,  I never knew there was so much to see in Menorca and Cyprus etc.

The plan always is that you go to the cultural sights in the morning because it’s the coolest time of day and therefore far more pleasant to go (this was how Mum and Dad would sell it to us when we actually just wanted to be by the pool) and then we would get back to the hotel around lunchtime where you are then allowed a good couple of hours by the pool to enjoy the sunshine before getting ready for and then enjoying dinner.   This routine is the general plan for all Bishop family holidays of the ‘package’ variety and I am mildly ashamed to say that this now is rather instilled in me and I have been known to do similar scheduling since…no idea where I get that from.

Now there is nothing wrong with this we have seen some amazing places for which I am truly thankful for even if the names of some of the more obscure sites I can’t now remember which is probably why at the time we made scrapbooks after every holiday. They always documented everything we did even to the point of collecting ticket stubs, leaflets, napkins etc of places we went. One thing that is quite noticeable from these scrapbooks or in fact the Bishop photos in general, are that they rarely include people.

Now I do love a selfie, I was ‘selfie-ing’ long before the word ‘selfie’ was even invented but we have never really been the kind of family to feel the need to take a lot of pictures of each other, although we probably take more now than we did back then. Sure there are a few of course but most are of things we see rather than just us with a variable backdrop. We see each other all the time after all but we don’t see some ancient Grecian temple nestled into a cliff or whatever, or a tree with a load of hankies tied in it (yes seriously this does exist).tree of hankies

True, pictures never quite capture the memory but they remind us of those things we have seen and the memories associated with them which is pretty special.  although to be honest I don’t remember any particular memories with the hanky tree but hopefully you see my point!

For my Mum that’s recording every UNESCO World Heritage Site her and my Dad visit in a tick box style fashion (I am reliably informed they are up to 95 although my Mum has seen an additional 6), I can’t wait for them to visit the Titanic! Then of course it’s the obligatory ‘oh you haven’t seen our pictures of [insert placename]’. All I can say is digital photography has a lot to answer for!

Back in the 1990s and early 2000s when film camera still dominated you had to really want to take a picture because films were expensive and it cost a reasonable amount to get them developed. Now we are much more throwaway with those moments because we can take an endless amount of alternatives or different slightly arty views of the same thing eh Dad?

This is great of course it is but the sad thing is that you see some tourists now seeing those sights through their selfie sticks or the camera on their phone/ipad/video camera/actual camera or even a combination of the above rather than taking a step back and taking it in with their actual eyes which I think is such a shame. Some moments you will never get back so why waste it?!  If you want to see life through a lens then you could save your money and just stay at home and watch the same thing on a truly realistic HD National Geographic (or similar) travel programme.

I think we can all get a little complacent sometimes as technology makes things so much easier and the world gets smaller. Sometimes it’s just about taking a step back and living in the moment rather than racing through life in a tick box style – unless you are on a quest do all 1052 (currently) UNESCO World Heritage sites in which case probably you can be given a little bit of an exception.

Holidays are about experience. Getting away from it. Relaxing (maybe), Adventuring (possibly), Burning (in my case, definitely). Doesn’t matter where you go you still make memories, good or bad.  Thing is your mind will always remember the bad things and you don’t need or normally have pictures for those, the pictures are there to help remind you of those good memories; that place you visited, that meal you had, that funny moment, they may or may not include people depending on if they are integral to that memory.

view

Over the years there have been some pretty bad Bishop holiday moments…I don’t have pictures of these but they are things you don’t forget, the very much abridged version is below:

  • Dad being told he was going to be made redundant when we were in the middle of our holiday in the US
  • Mum sitting on the floor in floods of tears in Changhi airport having literally lost it (I mean properly lost it) because they ‘couldn’t find’ our booking. They magically ‘found’ our booking not long after that
  • Me getting bitten to what felt like near death by mosquitoes in Australia to the point where walking was so painful even the pharmacist didn’t know what to suggest
  • Brother nearly drowning in a hotel pool when he jumped in to the deep end but couldn’t actually swim
  • Me getting burnt on too many holidays to name but the worst being my scalp and my shins (separate occasions). Don’t ever burn your shins, it is the most pain I have ever ever felt.
  • Dad falling down stone steps in a gÎte in France in the middle of the night
  • Mum being offered tranquilizers (actually in hindsight that was more funny than bad) because she was in such a state on a plane when we were so helpfully told there was a problem with the engine. We sat on that plane for 5 hours before taking off – which was fun.
  • Brother leaving his camera hooked over the seat in front of him on a bus in Malaysia on the assumption that my Dad (who was sitting on the seat in front) would magically know it was there and remind him to take it with him
  • Arriving late at night to a condo in Florida to find someone already in the one we had booked, it took us 3 attempts to get one that we could actually stay in
  • ‘Duvetgate’

For those of you embarking on your summer holidays, I really am not jealous at all*, enjoy making lots of new memories (hopefully more good than bad), take a step back and take in that view, that moment, put your arm around someone special  (or maybe someone close by if they look approachable 🙂 ??) or enjoy it for yourself and experience some of those things you may never get the chance to do or see again. You see so much when you just sit and take it in.

Take 1000s of pictures if you want just don’t do what I see the endless stream of tourists in London doing and see it just through your phones/camera/ipad/video camera!

🙂

sunset

*that is a lie

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Surrogacy Reform

I realize that the concept of surrogacy for some is one which sparks a lot of debate and often negativity, perhaps some think it is unethical or unnatural. Everyone is entitled to their own view of course and I am not seeking to change it, more to put forward my point of view as to why I think the reform is such a positive thing. Some consider IVF/Surrogacy unnatural because if you can’t have children naturally then that is because you weren’t meant to. If we followed that same argument then those who are born with those life crippling conditions for which surgery or medication for the rest of your life to keep the effects under control are required should also not pursue those avenues because they too could be considered unnatural.

I realise I am being flippant here and MRKH is not life threatening however it is life changing in a different way and therefore does that make it any less important to want to find those alternative solutions? No.    We are now in an age of scientific breakthroughs and medical advances which is truly fantastic but the public perception and legal system can often be stunted by our own perceptions or historical beliefs rather than focusing on the benefits of what such changes are trying to achieve for those people for which the outcome is really important .

For me, even if IVF Surrogacy is not something I pursue (again) I have experienced first hand the current obstructive, unhelpful and quite frankly upsetting treatment of people with a condition that they can do nothing about. That is why I am seeking to make a change. I have talked about this before based on my own experiences but given that tomorrow sees the first UK debate on the Surrogacy Reform in the House of Commons I thought it was important to raise it again.

So why is this so important?

When the surrogacy laws were put in place some 30 years ago they never considered the wider relationship diversity that we see nowadays in the ‘modern families’ we now see. As such the laws are relatively stunted and inflexible and don’t provide the variability to really ensure the focus is always the child and remove the uncertainty on who the legal parent are after birth. Not only that but currently even though the medical process of IVF is the same for those who can carry their own child as well as for those like me with MRKH (or other conditions) who physically can’t carry my own child, the NHS will almost never support an IVF request which involves a surrogate whereas they will a more standard IVF request.

In some ways the need for some legal structure and reduced uncertainty has been highlighted more recently with the recent article in the Daily Mail (Source: Daily Mail 1st July 2016). To be honest this whole situation screams poor consideration from the start, who signs a contract in a food outlet to have someones baby? However, people are that desperate to have children that they will do anything to be able to have that, that could be travelling overseas, as is often common in the UK, it could be putting themselves into high amounts of debt or finding those other alternatives as the gay couple in this situation did.

I am not saying that the legal reform will stop this specific and very sad situation from happening as sadly these types of situations can occur but they are extremely rare. What the legal reform aims to do is provide a more supportive legal mechanism and framework for surrogacy so those following this path can feel more protected. Not only that but the legal reform will broaden access to surrogacy to include all who wish to pursue this process whether they are hetero- or homo-sexual.  Some work has been done in this case but there is still much more to do.

I have been in regular contact with my MP about the reform since it was first announced late last year. After, his supportive letter back to me to say he would look into this, the cynic part of me said ‘yeah right’ but at least I felt like I had done something. But he did, he wrote back to me and included the letter he had received from the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health. Some of the key points she raised in her response were

‘I am particularly heartened by the clear messages from the stakeholders about the importance of the altruistic elements for all participants in the surrogacy arrangements

 ‘I am conscious that surrogacy is an evolving area both legally and ethically and that it is important that those entering into surrogacy arrangements are fully aware of the legal position’

‘The Department of Health is working to review our guidance to see if greater clarity can be added’

‘We [Department of Health] recommend that people who are contemplating entering into a surrogacy arrangement use clinics licensed by Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HEFA) and do not rely on informal arrangements’

Since then Surrogacy UK have continued to work hard to push forward the reform and a debate on the reform will happen in the House of Commons on 18th July 2016. The recommendations put forward for the reform and the debate tomorrow are listed below (taken from Surrogacy UK, Legal Reform):

  • Parental orders should be pre-authorised so that legal parenthood is conferred on intended parents at birth.
  • Intended parents should register the birth.
  • Parental orders should be available to single people who use surrogacy.
  • Parental orders should be available to IPs where neither partner has used their own gametes (‘double donation’).
  • The time limit for applying for a parental order should be removed.
  • Parental order/surrogacy birth data should be centrally and transparently collected and published annually.
  • IVF surrogacy cycles and births should be accurately recorded by fertility clinics/ Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).
  • NHS funding should be made available for IVF surrogacy where those applying are eligible for funding under NICE guidelines.
  • The rules on surrogacy-related advertising and the criminalisation of this should be reviewed in the context of non-profit organisations.

The report also recommends the following actions for government:

  • The Department of Health, in consultation with the surrogacy community, should draft and publish a ‘legal pathway’ document for IPs and surrogates.
  • The Department of Health should produce guidance for professionals in the field, written in consultation with the surrogacy community for midwives and hospitals, Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) and clinics.
  • Surrogacy should be included in schools’ sex and relationships education (SRE) classroom curriculum (from primary) – linked to awareness email_editof (in)fertility, family options for same sex partners etc.

Surrogacy UK are encouraging those for which Surrogacy is either an option, or something that you are passionate about changing to contact their MPs and ask if they will attend the debate tomorrow (they have a template letter you can use). Whilst this was announced too late (or I saw it too late) to be able to write to my MP I emailed him on Friday afternoon and he emailed me back positively within a matter of hours (see right). I encourage you all to do the same if you haven’t already and you want to see changes.

 

The changes won’t happen instantly but the positive thing is that after many years of campaigning this is the first debate in the House of Commons on this subject.  This is one small step to make massive changes for those of us where this process is an option and I am very pleased to have the opportunity to be part of that even if in only a very small way.

CBT

You can’t plan for it, you don’t know how you will feel when that first person tells you they are having a baby. It could be someone who knows you have MRKH or it could be someone who doesn’t know – doesn’t make it any easier either way.

I have done 4 different sets of counselling at different stages of my life so far. These have all been for MRKH but for different reasons. The first time I went was only a year or so after I found out. My head was all over the place and I thought at the time it would help me start to process things. To be honest I don’t think I was quite in the right place to do that and it wasn’t as effective as it could have been but starting to open up about it was one very small step to start to make myself feel better. In my head at least I was attempting to do something positive even if I wasn’t giving much away in the sessions. I did that for 2 years or so, not all that frequently but it was a start.

I did alright for a time after that, started to feel happier about where I was and whilst a couple of people I knew had already had children the first time it really hit me was when my close friend Becky (different to the other Becky, I basically have many friends with the same name and many of them end in a ‘y’) from work told me she was pregnant. I felt my heart sink.

We had become really good friends a year or so before after she helped me out when the ridiculous journey I was doing to work killed my car (smurfy) and I used to stay at theirs a couple of nights a week. The three of us, including her husband, ate good food, played computer games (in my case badly) and drank a lot of red wine and laughed a lot. This was the first time I had felt really tested about how I would feel in this situation and I am not ashamed to say I struggled.

Becky didn’t know I had MRKH, in fact she only found out I did have MRKH much more recently. By the time it felt the right time to tell her she had told me she was pregnant and it just didn’t then seem the right time to do that as I didn’t want her to think she couldn’t talk to me. It was because of this and how I was feeling that I decided to go back to counselling again to try and find a way to manage these feelings, preempting the fact that this would not be the only time this happened.

I didn’t really tell anyone I was doing this not even my boyfriend for the first couple of sessions because I felt embarrassed. In some ways this felt like I was taking a step back, going back again as if I failed the first time but in reality that’s not how it should feel I very much realize that now. It should be a positive thing to realize that there is a problem and that you are seeking help before it gets too much and not only that but recognizing that MRKH isn’t something that will just get solved, it will impact you in different ways at different points of your life. Some find counselling useful to help them through that and some don’t, each to their own.

The psychologist at the hospital this time was a specialist in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and how this can be used to help to overcome different situations whether physical or more psychological. She described it to me as a way to break down the feelings and associations with different situations to help you to not only recognize the similar patterns that they provoke but also in doing so to address those feelings. Now I love a spider diagram, I am a visual person and writing these things down in that way was helpful. This was the first one of those I ever did, 7 years ago. IMG_2831

I look back on this now and I can remember so vividly feeling like this that panic and anxiety about how I would feel when the baby was born. I didn’t want it to change our relationship if I told her as I wanted her to know she could rely on me. Now I know that was stupid but when you are feeling vulnerable it is very easy to put yourself down and think more irrationally than you usually would, second guessing what might happen.

By outlining the moods, behaviours and body language associated with a situation its amazing how those same patterns repeat across similar situations, a story line on the television, seeing some random on the tube wearing a ‘baby on board’ badge etc. The point of CBT is to try and recognize that you are tripping into that cycle again and ultimately in doing so trying to find ways to break those cycles. For me that was through a series of carefully designed ‘experiments’ to test how I would actually feel if I faced some of those fears rather than closing up on myself in difficult situations. Would it feel as bad as I thought? Invariably the answer was no.

If I am quite honest I am not sure CBT really worked for me, I like the concept a lot but I don’t think it was as effective as it could have been. That being said, it did teach me a lot to recognize those feelings and be more open with those close to me which at the time I hadn’t really done. It allowed me to talk to my best friend and boyfriend and even wider if I needed to about how I was feeling without feeling silly about doing so. So that was major positive outcome of those sessions, so perhaps I am doing it a disservice.  When I consider the different techniques I have looked at with counselling this however wasn’t the most effective.

Since their first baby girl was born I have been lucky enough to be really involved in their lives. 2 weeks after she was born Becky had to go back into hospital and they asked me to help out by looking after her. This was pretty much a baptism of fire in child care which for someone who can’t have children felt really difficult/terrifying at the time.

But holding that little girl was really something special. I felt very proud that they had asked me to look after her, trusted me to look after her. Spending time with them changed my perception to the point that whilst I still felt sad aIMG_2833t times I could feel a warmth and happiness for being part of that and that was also something unexpected in that original cycle of doom I had felt. I was not only helping my friends out but I was given the chance to build a relationship with a special little girl who thinks I am pretty cool (probably) to spend time with and even now gets excited to talk to me even though they now live overseas, she will always have a very special piece of my heart for that reason.

This was the first test, there were to be many more of these since then but this did show me that I wasn’t going to crumble into an emotional mess every time my friends had babies – which given how regularly that has happened since then is a relief.

Its really hard sometimes and I don’t see that changing anytime soon but I could shy away from those situations or I could be part of their lives and to me being part of their lives is more important. It’s a balance between knowing your limits and also proving to yourself that perhaps even though some of these situations are hard maybe they aren’t actually as fear inducing as you initially think they might be. I wouldn’t actively hunt down a difficult situation (because that would be masochistic) but if I am presented with something that I know will be tough I don’t just ignore it I test myself, an experiment.  Will it be as bad as I think? If it is I can make my excuses and leave, if its not then perhaps I will be pleasantly surprised.

These techniques, however they make you feel at the time, do start to provide different tools and ways to recognize your behavior in different situations. If you can recognize it then you can do something about it if you want to. Perhaps that takes a certain amount of strength to do, it probably does, but I think most people underplay the strength that they actually have inside if they put their mind to it, I know I do.

 

When you lose something you can’t replace

I have a confession, I don’t really like Coldplay. I know that is probably a heinous thing to say but it’s true and I am sorry to all the Coldplayers out there. However, as the radio 1 DJ said last week even if you don’t generally like Coldplay there is always one song that you like. This is the one that I like (love).

 When you try your best but you don’t succeed
When you get what you want but not what you need
When you feel so tired but you can’t sleep
Stuck in reverse

Sometimes life feels like you are taking one step forward and a million steps back and I don’t like going backwards I never have. I mean not just metaphorically but physically. If I am lost the prospect of having to turn round and go back the other way turns me into a grumpy monster. I have jumped from relationship to relationship since I was18 because I have always wanted to be with someone, to feel safe and loved. In reality, largely as it turns out, it has not been what I needed on many occasions or turned out as I hoped. It’s an insecurity I know that, some people are just like that, I don’t think it has anything to do with MRKH specifically but still. Its tiring, those times it doesn’t work and you physically feel exhausted, willing yourself to find that one person of your dreams who will make it all better yet that seems to never really happen. We all know that when you try too hard it doesn’t happen either which makes it all the more frustrating. But when you find that person it can change everything, taking you out of the backward spiral you sometimes feel you have got yourself in. How do you know you have found it? I’m no expert but I think you just know.

 When the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can’t replace
When you love someone but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?

 I’ve lost something I never even had and it is irreplaceable, I can’t change that, I was born that way and quite frankly it sucks. I’ve also loved and lost and whilst its almost never been a waste in that sense (there are a couple I definitely wouldn’t want to repeat) they have ended and it feels like the world is falling apart. It could be worse of course it could but at that moment nothing feels worse and all those negative things you can list about yourself, about how you feel all the sad moments come flooding back to you.  It’s how you get yourself out of that and carry on, living to fight another day that’s important.

 Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
I will try to fix you

 Finding your own way in the world can be hard and scary particularly when you are hit with a bombshell. But positive boosts can come from anywhere it could be when I have opened up about something bothering me which just feels a relief to share. It could be talking to my best friend, laughing and joking with the people I love or talking to one of my MRKH friends. When you feel low that elates you, makes you feel better, even if just for a moment. We all need that, we all need to feel supported and to share how we feel in a way that makes us feel safe, it makes such a difference.

 High up above or down below
When you’re too in love to let it go
But if you never try you’ll never know
Just what you’re worth

 Life is a mixture of highs and lows for everyone sometimes we feel that even if something isn’t right its too hard to say ‘good bye’ and change the situation. It could be a relationship that isn’t quite what it was despite the love you have, it could be a job that isn’t pushing you in the direction you want. Through fear, or habit or whatever we so often stay in those situations, I know from experience, but sometimes you have to take that leap of faith. I love my job but does it make the most of my potential? At the moment no it doesn’t but it fills me with fear to contemplate changing even if it could be a massive boost. This is much easier said than done but a change can be good can give that new lease of life and take us out of that slump we have got ourselves in. We are often so good at not realizing what we are personally capable of.

 Tears stream down your face
When you lose something you cannot replace
Tears stream down your face

We can’t replace what we don’t have, what we will never have. It will make us cry a lot, sometimes for seemingly silly reasons and sometimes because it all just is, and seems, so hard. It’s ok to cry, its healthy to do so, to release that stress that builds up.

 Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

 Nothing can fix us in that idyllic way that most of us would be delighted to have. But we can fix ourselves in other ways that could be completing the dilator therapy, a sense of achievement in itself. It could be opening up and sharing our thoughts and fears with those people close to us to help us start to process MRKH in whatever way that we find works. There is no magic formula that will fix you but there are many ways that can help you lead a very happy and fulfilled life if you will allow yourself to.

Thank you Coldplay